Saturday, November 20, 2021

Feast of Christ the King 2021

 For the past several years, I've used this weekend's upcoming feast day to reflect back on the year. 2020 and 2021 have brought about a lot of things for reflection. While 2020 was unprecedented and hard in many ways, I did come to appreciate the slowness of it. 2021 started off with the same stillness and slowness as winter and a pandemic will bring you, but once things started to open back up in March and April and more people became vaccinated, the busyness of life went back to "normal". Except. Things are not yet normal. People are still getting sick. We are still quarantining with Covid exposures. Even with vaccines and boosters. Quarantining and wearing masks and remote meetings and teaching is a way of life now. And it is still pretty exhausting. 

Yet, I am grateful for all that I was able to do this year after the anxiety and seclusion of last year. Here is a look back on the last liturgical year: 

NYE was very low key with me and literally two other friends doing an at home dinner since Covid was at its height and we didn't have the vaccine yet. 
Winter is always rough, but 2020 taught us about using Zoom and FaceTime to socialize. This definitely carried over into 2021 until the vaccine. 
Our ticket back into society! Vaccinated Feb. 2021!
First winery trip since Covid in March 2021
Friends at Outer Banks for Spring Break 2021
Getting to celebrate my 40th how I dreamed with close friends and family vaccinated with a winery weekend was a definite highlight of 2021. 
Getting to attend Easter Vigil in person after having a quarantined Holy Week in 2020 and a quarantined year of RCIA was also a great joy. 

Celebrating a full year of teaching in a pandemic with the best staff a teacher could ask for in June 2021.

Still sticking with domestic travel for the summer of 2021, I treated myself to a spa weekend in the mountains and lots of road trips like my Delta Blues trip and visiting friends and family in OH and PA.
Above: Somewhere in Mississippi, Below: another winery, this time in PA with a bestie

Celebrating mom and dad's 70th and my 40th this summer in Ohio

I discovered a lot about myself in 2020 and 2021 and one of those things was that I *am* in fact into Renaissance Faires :) Went to my first one in MD in September. 

I was super stoked to do typical fall things again like fairs and hunting for decorative gourds with friends.
Had a mini-reunion with some college friends in DC in October.
And we got to have a few more join us at Halloween this year. 
Grateful to get back to somewhat "normal" with wine and friends this year, but still very aware of how our lives are still not quite the same. 

Feeling super grateful for vaccines and health and some of the busyness of 2021 and feeling hopeful for 2022! All of the projects I started in 2020 like my podcast  and blogging and connecting with other Catholic social media content creators continued throughout this year.  And shout out to St. Joseph whose year it was this past liturgical year in the Year of St. Joseph. He came through on a novena I did in March and will continue to see what his intercession will bring as we round out this year. 

St. Joseph, pray for us! Happy Feast of Christ the King!



Sunday, November 7, 2021

The One About Wine

I've lived in Virginia and the DC area for almost 20 years now. In that time period from 23 years old until now, I have visited A LOT of the over 300 wineries that exist in Virginia. 60 to be exact! 

Here are some pics from celebrating my 26 birthday in 2007:

Naked Mountain, Northern VA above and I honestly can't remember which winery below! Gah!

And are some from this year, 2021!
Afton Mountain Vineyards above and Valley Road Vineyards below

Obviously, I love wine. But I also love the whole wine-tasting experience. I love learning about why I like certain wines and how they are made. I also just happen to think Virginia is beautiful and I love going out to drink wine with friends amid the mountains. 

The purpose of this post is to try and give some kind of documentation and descriptions to the 60 wineries I've been to! Some have been more recent and some were back in my 20s, so I'm sure things have changed since then. 

I write this for my own memory but also maybe to help those who want to visit Virginia wineries as well! Here goes my first attempt at this. Some descriptions may be more detailed than others since I'm decided to do this after nearly 20 years of drinking wine! Ha!

8 Chains North- This is off of Route 9 in Northern VA and one of my favorites. They have a beautiful patio, spacious tasting room, and the wines are off Ha. Always recommend. This is a solid favorite after all of my years of wineries in VA. Recommend!

Afton Mountain Vineyards- This is about a half an hour outside of Charlottesville and one that I went to most recently (pictured above with my friend, Raven). The views were BEAUTIFUL. They were VERY Covid conscious. Masks had to be worn in the pavilion to order wine and the tasting room was closed. Tables were outside and very spaced out, though they had a cool indoor space (the pavilion) that was enclosed in glass on all sides so you could still see the views. I had a chardonnay, a rose, their "Tradition" wine, Bacco '18, and Petit Verdot. The Bacco was my favorite. It was a blend of Tanat, Sangiovese and another grape that is escaping me. The white and the rose were just okay, the reds could've been a little fuller bodied for me, but 10/10 on views and safety! It was off the beaten path, too, so far away from lots of other cars. Recommend!

Barboursville- This is a long-time staple in central VA. Beautiful grounds, lots of different varietals to try. I went in 2021 and they were using machines to do their tastings, but it was actually kind of cool. You got a card and a glass and the card allowed you to try I think 6 wines like a normal tasting, but you could pick which ones you wanted. They had lots of whites, reds, and sparklings to chose from. Definitely recommend!

Covid era tasting machines at Barboursville

Barrel Oak- This is another staple off 66 in Northwestern VA. It's a huge complex with big tasting room and outdoor space. The wines are tasty BUT I am NOT a dog person and this place literally markets themselves with dog-themed wines and everything. So while I've been here a couple of times and enjoy the wine, it's not at the top of my list because of all the dogs. Recommend!

Blenheim Vineyards- This is outside of Charlottesville and is "the Dave Matthews Winery" because he owns it. I went a couple of years ago, maybe in 2019? And remember liking the wines and views. Would go back and recommend!

Boxwood- This winery is in Middleburg and has quite a good reputation. It is very fancy and sleek looking. More corporate/professional than down-home vibes. I remember really liking the rose which is not a wine I'm usually drawn too. This place lives up to its reputation, but is a little *too* fancy/corporate of a vibe for me. Recommend. 

Breaux Vineyards- This place is another one with a big reputation in Northern VA. It's off of my Route 9 route, but not necessarily one I stop at all of the time because it's so busy. The wines are good, space is nice, but I like a more unique experience and I hate to say it, this experience for me is just fine. 

Byrd Cellars- This winery was...not great in my mind. They had lots of wines to choose from which is a flag for me because that usually means they don't do any really well. This was also in Goochland which is not a region really known for its wine. I find wineries closer to the cities and closer east don't do as well with their grapes. They don't have the hills and soil need. Also lots of fruit wines is a trigger for me. I don't love fruit wines and that's again usually a sign to me that their grapes aren't great if they are using peaches and berries. It was a closer drive from Richmond, but there weren't really any views and again, not great wine. But it was a fine place for me to sit on the porch and read my book so there was that. And the workers were very nice. 

Cana- This place is off of Route 50 in Middleburg, VA and was new when I was working at a neighboring winery in like 2015. This place had fruit wines. See my above description of Byrd Cellars for my thoughts on that. Nice views, nice space. Hope they've found their footing since then, but in this area, there are so many better wineries to try. Sorry about it!

Casanel- This place is close to the Route 9 string of vineyards in Northern VA. I remember the space being just okay but the wines being good. It's been a while since I've been to this one. It wasn't my number one on my Route 9 stops, however. Maybe I will have to go back to see further developments. 

Cardinal Point- This is out in the Afton/Wintergreen/Nelson County area and my friends and I went here for a girls weekend in 2019. We had a great time. The winery has a more country feel as opposed to corporate or modern and I remember liking a number of the wines. We brought food to sit outside (pro-tip...check to see if a winery will let you bring food in! Some of them want you to buy their food if they serve it. But definitely bring food if they will let you because it definitely optimizes your day of drinking! If only 38 yo Julia could tell that to 25 yo Julia...) and we had a good time here. It also came recommended to my friend Raven and I at our most recent trip to Afton. Recommend!

Chateau O'Brien- I love this place. It's very professional looking and has two different rooms to do two different types of tasting experiences (at least it did when I went back in like 2014). The outdoor space and views are amazing AND you have to be 21+ to be there! Kid free! Always a plus in my book!Recommend!

Chrysalis- This place is a staple off Route 50 in Middleburg, VA. They sell their wines locally in stores and are known for their Norton wine which is pretty good. It was never my favorite out in Middleburg, but definitely decent. I know that they have grown a lot in recent years. I may have to check it out again sometime soon.

Delaplane Cellars- This one was always a favorite of mine in Northern VA. It's close to Sky Meadow State Park and just has incredible views, great wine, a nice sized indoor tasting room that's not too big, not too small. It often has live music and just good vibes. It looks professional but feels homey at the same time. Love this place. Recommend!

Doukenie Winery- This place is off the beaten path in the Hillsboro/Route 9 area of Northern VA. I remember liking a couple of the wines, but there are other wineries out in this area that I prefer. This had more of a farm vibe, which is fine, but I like somewhere between farm and bougie for my winetasting.

Dry Mill- I enjoyed this place's wine tasting spaces and wine. It's not the *most* scenic in Northern VA, but has good whites from what I remember and cool indoor spaces for parties or special events. Recommend. 

DuCard- This is kind of in the Harrisonburg, VA area. My friends and I did a girls weekend in 2019 (different than the one I just mentioned! Apparently 2019 was the year of girls wine weekends. It was also the year the movie Wine Country on Netflix came out so there's that) and had not planned on stopping at a winery, but made the trip. We were glad we did! I don't remember loving the wines, but I usually can find at least one I will drink. We brought food and they had a nice deck and grounds to walk on. It was also off the beaten path which I always enjoy because they typically get less traffic. We had a nice day here. They had live music and let you keep the tasting glass. Recommend!

Early Mountain Vineyards- this one is in the Standardsville area of VA which I visited this summer in 2021. I had been so excited to go to this winery because they sell wine at stores and restaurants here in Richmond. When I pulled up, I was super impressed by the space and the scenery. This is a RESTAURANT. It is much more fancy than I was prepared for. I had a waitress and fancy table with a waiter. Not really what I was expecting from a winery. And honestly, the wines were....just okay for the price I paid. I'm not sure this place is my kind of vibe. I like more down-home kind of wineries than corporate-fancy. But it's obviously a nice place and an experience. 

Eastwood Farm and Winery-  My friend Raven and I stumbled upon this place in September 2021. We got good vibes from it form the beginning. They have a brand new tasting room that was beautiful also with some outdoor seating which I loved. The tasting room is very spacious and had a stage for live music. When we went into the tasting room, the server recommended that we make the drive to their second tasting room a little further up the mountain. We were glad she made that recommendation. I would've been happy to sit in the lower tasting room, but the view from up top was gorgeous. They had another tasting space up there under and large, open tent with a dance floor and live music. Perfect spot for parties or weddings. The wine is very GREEN. Very new, but this place has lots of potential. Recommend!

Elk Island Winery- This is another Goochland winery close to Byrd, but had much better wines. The wines were more sophisticated and the tasting menu was more standard (no fruit wines!). The wines were still not quite up to par with those in Charlottesville or Loudoun County, but more comparable. The winery is actually an old house which I kind of like. People sat out the deck and the screened in porch. I sat a little further out by the vines and it was a nice enough spot to read my book. Nowhere near the views further west, but okay if you want a quick trip from the city. Would recommend. 

Fabbioli Cellars- This is close to Leesburg, VA in Northern VA and was a favorite of mine for a long time. They always do food pairings with their wines which I liked. When I went there most recently in 2021, I was a little disappointed in the wine and the vibe. I know that 2020 was tough so maybe they made changes due to the pandemic. The place used to be a good mix between upscale and homey which I liked. It was a little less upscale most recently and the wines were not what I remembered them to be. 

Fifty Third Winery- This used to be named Cooper Vineyards which I had seen at wine festivals in years past and stood out to me for their chocolate, dessert wine. Definitely recommend. This place is in Louisa County, so between Richmond and Charlottesville. It's a very decent stop if you want somewhere closer in to the city and not drive all the way out to Charlottesville. It's not incredibly scenic, but off the beaten path but still relatively close. It has good, solid wines and two nice spaces to taste and drink. Also has an outdoor deck and live music. Recommend!

Flying Fox- This is in the Afton region and off the main drag with a lot of other wineries, but a much smaller, hipster vibe. They also do vermouths which I've never seen anywhere else. Their aesthetic is very chic but funky with a speakeasy styled interior and cool mural out front. The views are just okay but the wine is AMAZING. It's the same wine-maker as Veritas, so if you want a more chill, smaller scale vibe than Veritas with the same solid wine, this is the place. Recommend! 

Fox Meadow- This winery is a hike in Northern VA and the tasting room and wines are not necessarily spectacular, however the views are amazing!

Gautheir Vineyard- When I moved to Richmond, I wanted to explore the nearby wineries like I had for Northern VA. As I've mentioned, I'm leery of wineries that aren't out west in our more hilly, mountainous regions. This winery is one of the reasons I am leery. It is cute and was setting up for a wedding on the property. It had a nice tasting room and wrap around deck, but the wine was...not great. I don't think they grew a lot of their own grapes and it didn't seem from what I can tell that winemaking was their strong suit. Pass. 

Glass House Winery- This is a pretty popular one out near Charlottesville. It's named for its greenhouse dining area. It had a lot of hype prior to me visiting and the vibe and wine was just okay for me, but would recommend giving it a try. 

Grace Estate- Another Charlottesville area one with a cool, small-ish tasting room and lots of outdoor space. I remember liking a good number of the wines and enjoying a glass of red outside with my friend on the deck. Nothing spectacular stands out, but would recommend if you are in the area. 

Greenhill Winery- This place used to be Swedenberg Estates off of Route 50 in Middleburg. It changed to Greenhill Winery in the early 2010s. I actually worked there from 2014-2015. The wines were amazing. Our wine maker was from France and he did amazing things with both the whites and the reds. He knew how to use what Virginia could grow so well. It used to be just a small farm house tasting room and a stone home for wine club members, but they've since built a huge complex on the property. I want to go back and check out the new space! Recommend!

Hillsborough Winery- This is one of my favorite stops on Route 9 in Northern VA. It has amazing views and the wine is great. A very old-timey, stone house vibe from what I remember! Always recommend this place. 

Horton- This one is close to Barboursville, but remember what I wrote about Byrd Cellars and too many wines + fruit wines? Yeah, this place was not a fave. Go to Barboursville and hang out there instead. 

James River Cellars- For closer to the city wineries, I do enjoy this one. Their wines are fine. They often have a slushie that they are serving which is usually another red flag that the wines aren't great, but I enjoy a fair amount of these wines and it's a quick option from Richmond. The winery is kind of small and off a main road, but the vibe does what in can given the circumstances. I can sit and read a book outside here and find at least one wine to drink. It's fine. 

Jefferson Vineyards- This place is big and usually busy outside of Charlottesville. Similar to Glass House and Grace Estates, it's a fine place to stop and I remember liking some of the wines. Nothing spectacular stands out to me, though, except that it was BUSY. But would recommend. 

Keswick- This place has cool views as you roll up, but then ones you arrive to the tasting room, the area is very wooded. It's still a nice place to sit outside and read, though. And the wines were pretty tasty. I enjoyed myself here. Would recommend. 

La Grange- This place in Northern VA was always a go-to. Very good wines, cool tasting space in an old house, and lots of space on the grounds. Recommend!

Lost Creek- Not the most spectacular views in Northern, VA, but an upscale vibe in the tasting rooms. There is a separate tasting space for wine club members, but I actually enjoyed the regular tasting room the most. The servers are knowledgeable and I enjoyed the wines. Would recommend.

New Kent- Of the "closer to the city" wineries, this one is probably the best that I've been to on the East side of Richmond. Again, I prefer to go west, but this winery had nice views (even without mountains) and decent tasting, enjoyable wines. They had a lovely tasting room and nice porch outback. I know they often have live music on weekends. 

Meriwether Springs- This place is off the beaten path on your way out of Charlottesville. It is an old house that looks like it would be a great place for a wedding. When I rolled up, I was directed to the basement that had a bar/pub vibe. And served beers. That they don't make there? Nor did they make the wines there? So it was just like a bar. The tasting was free though, which I appreciated, but the whole scene was kind of weird for me. I couldn't figure out the place's identity or what it wanted to be. I would pass unless you are intrigued at figuring out what this place wants to be.

Naked Mountain- This place was a favorite when I lived in Northern VA. Close to Delaplane and Sky Meadow State Park, this place has a beautiful wrap around deck and tasting room very off the beaten path. The wines are not spectacular but definitely drinkable. Used to go here very frequently because I enjoyed the area so.

Notaviva Craft Fermentations- This is also out by Hillsbourough and wasn't a frequent stop for me on the Route 9 route, but I believe that they had a chocolate or dessert wine that I really liked and a cool farmhouse/live music vibe. 

Otium- This is in the Purceville area of Northern, VA. When I worked at Greenhill, this and Boxwood wineries were the buzz. I went here once on a day off and it lived up to the hype. The wines are unique with a German influence and really well made. The winery itself was not necessarily a space to write home about, but it wasn't not fine either :) The wines made this place 10/10 recommend

Paradise Springs- This place is a good enough winery closer in to DC. I've written about how wineries closer to the cities are not the best, but this place has a huge tasting room and a nice patio area and the wines are pretty good. A good alternative if you don't want to drive all the way out to wine country.

Pearmund Cellars- I remember enjoying the whites? I think? I know this was on a lovely property and had a big barrel room for tastings which was cool. But...nothing much else stands out from this place, though I believe it to be decent. There's just so many other wineries out in Northern VA that stand out in my mind.

Pippin Hill- This place is beautiful. It's what you think of and probably want from a VA winery. Perfect for weddings. For such a well known place, I was hoping the wine would be a little bit better. My friend and I brought a blanket on a Saturday for a little wine and views and were nearly trampled on by ALL of the people. This place, like Jefferson, was BUSY. And the wine was just okay. But the views are amazing. Would recommend, but there are others in this area that are way cooler and better wines with less hype (like Eastwood, Afton Mountain or Flying Fox)

Pollak Vineyards- This is in the Afton area and was on my list to try. When we went to Flying Fox, I asked what other wineries the server would recommend since I liked the wines so much there. They said this place. Done. Sold. This place is BEAUTIFUL. We got here at like 3pm and it was a perfect spot for the "golden hours" of fall. There's lake, mountains, open area seating on the deck and patio and a very professional tasting room inside. My friend and I didn't have the whites, but the reds were pretty good. Would go back here just for the vibe and views. Off the beaten path, great place to sit and watch the sunset. Recommend

Prince Michel- I went here with a friend in 2020 after a hike in the Shenandoah. I had been wanting to try this place for years. It is quite the complex. It has a restaurant and a gift shop. I like a little less of a corporate vibe and like the focus to just be on the wine. I liked that they had yurts set up for covid style tastings, but the wine was just okay. My friend and I sat in the restaurant and watched TV. Not what I like for my wineries. I prefer for the wine and the views to be the focus. Meh. 

Quattro Gumbas- I went to this place very early on in my wine-tasting career and remember it being a scenic drive, but just okay wines. There are definitely so many more wineries out this way now that are perhaps a little bit more sophisticated. 

Saude Creek- Another "out east" winery that was okay. The tasting room was nice and there is a big wrap around deck on a large property. The wines were fine. Not bad for something not out west. I'm such a snob when it comes to my west vs east wineries! I'm sorry!

Stone Mountain- I did this one this summer in 2021 on my Standardsville trip. The views are AMAZING but the drive was SCARY! I can't imagine driving that if it wasn't my first stop on a wine trip. The wines were also...not great which was a bummer since the tasting room and the views were SO COOL. If you want to drive a very long way for a spectacular view and sub-par wines, this is the place. That sounds harsh, but the views really are the draw. 

Stone Tower- This place is relatively new and I've been here a couple of times. It was another one we talked about when I worked at the winery in Northern VA and it is worth the hype. They weren't producing a lot of their own wines at first, but that's since changed. I remember really liking the wines when I went back in 2019 and the views are amazing. The space is gorgeous. Definitely recommend!

Sunset Hills- This place is a favorite when in the Hillsborough/Purceville area. The wines are really good and it has a fun, farm vibe with a spacious tasting room. I love sitting on the deck area enjoying their wine. Recommend!

Tarara Winery- This place is the OG winery in an area now teaming with wineries. I remember going here when I first moved to Northern VA, so it's been a while. At the time this place was all the rage, but again, there have since been many more wineries that have popped up that may be more scenic and doing better wine-making, though I remember liking many of the wines from here and I'm down to check it out again soon. 

Terra Nebulo- I'm a little biased when it comes to this place as my friend's parents are the owners and built it. We used to have "field parties" on the grounds where the winery now sits. It's a really lovely, big, spacious barn on loads of open space with really good wines. I definitely recommend a trip out here on your Route 9/Northern VA tour!

The Barns at Hamilton Station- This place has really good wine and a fun vibe. The indoor "barn" space is very nice. It's off the beaten path and a nice, easy place to sit and enjoy wine. There's usually live music as well. It's not the most scenic winery I've been to, but the wine and chill vibes make it a Recommend!

Three Fox Vineyards- This place was a favorite of mine for a long time. Then a lot of other places started to pop up that did wine a little bit better. I haven't been since maybe 2014/2015 and I'm always willing to go back. The grounds are beautiful and spacious and the tasting room is small and quaint. I enjoyed having a spiced, mulled wine in the winter around some fire pits. Definitely recommend for that in the fall/winter. 

Upper Shirley Vineyards- This place is all the rage in Richmond because it is close by and for a winery NOT "out west" in the mountains where I prefer to drink wine, this winery is nice. It has a nice tasting room and outdoor seating area and is off the beaten path. I had a decent Chardonnay when I was there. If you want a winery closer into the city, it's decent, I'm just so spoiled with my mountain views and wine!

Valley Road Vineyards- I went here with my friends on one of the many girls weekends in 2019. They had wines that I really enjoyed and a froze which usually slushie drinks are a flag for me (see James River) but I really enjoyed it! This is quite the complex with a barn and tasting room and it has gotten BUSY after the last couple of years. But my friends and I got great pictures here, so the views are great. It IS off of a busy road and next to a very busy brewery, but once on the grounds you just noticed the lake, mountain and great wine. My friends may or may not have rolled down the hills here a la Wine Country (see DuCard). Also, I am biased as I decided to host my 40th birthday here (see pic up top with my family). The owners were so nice and easy to work with. They made sure my birthday was special and stress free even during Covid. And I got take home lots of yummy wines that my friends enjoyed as well. Recommend!

Veritas- I have been to this winery twice. Once in like 2010 and once in 2019. It has really grown and gotten a little more corporate in that time. The views are pretty, though, it's off the beaten path, and the wine is good (see Flying Fox). But I might go to Flying Fox for the less preppy, more chill aesthetic, though this winery is very nice. Lots of weddings are booked here. It's also usually very busy, but they are efficient with their tastings. Recommend. 

Wisdom Oak- This was kind of a fluke trip. My friend and I were just looking for something after our Eastwood find in Charlottesville and this was close. This is very down-home kind of vibe which usually I like, but this place was just okay. It was a little too off the beaten path and the wines were just alright. I think there are better places out in the area, but the servers were all super, super nice and the experience was enjoyable enough. 

White Hall- I did this one by myself this summer during my Standardsville trip and I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by this place. There were not a lot of people at all, so I got to chat with the server who was very knowledgeable about the wines and the wine maker. She had also worked at the winery I worked at in Northern VA- Greenhill- so it was fun to chat about that. The wines were delicious and I loved the smaller scale space and vibe. I sat outside and still had a great view even though this place was off the beaten path and smaller than most places in the area. Would recommend!

 I loved the tasting presentation at White Hill- especially in the age of Covid!

Zephaniah- Again, really biased with this one as another group of friends' parents run and own this winery that has been in their family for years. It's very much a family run operation and has grown from a unique, antique house that was used for tastings to a large barn tasting space that they've built more recently. A really unique property with great wines. I've even helped bottle and harvest some of their wine in the past. Definitely recommend!

There you have it folks. Until the next 60...